As seen in Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance newsletter "Recovery Road" Spring 2018
Stress is something we all experience. It can be a challenge to navigate through and to recognize positive stress from unhealthy stress. I am talking about the difference between stress that can spark one’s ambition and internal motivation in contrast to the stress that is hard on the body and hinders one from achieving goals. The coping strategies I have listed below can be beneficial to use when you catch yourself experiencing unhealthy stress. Venture into these strategies and notice if there are some that are of interest to you.
This method seems to be helpful for people of all ages and can be practiced anytime. Breathe in for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds. Repeat your breath while thinking of a favorite color that reminds you of what you need, and inhale it in. Then, exhale a color that illustrates the feeling you want to release. For example, I may breathe in a golden yellow because to me that color symbolizes love, peace, and warmth. Also, I may choose to exhale the color red that I associate with fear, sadness, or shame. Continue this repetition for as long as you need, or maybe continue until you notice your body slowing down.
Yoga has demonstrated to be beneficial for the mind and body. Some forms of exercise can encourage a feeling of being outside of oneself by daydreaming, dissociating, thinking about the future, or thinking about the past. Nevertheless, I have not been to a yoga class where the instructor has not taken the time to attend to the breath. Focusing on the breath allows you to align with the present moment, as you cannot breathe in the past nor can you breathe in the future (Van der Kolk, 2014, p. 278).
Yoga can also facilitate an awareness and connection with one’s body – an essential aspect of stress reduction. It can reduce stress as you listen by observing the physical sensations. As you honor your body, you can create an awareness of hearing what your body has to say to you. Identifying the physical sensations and understanding how we emotionally feel can assist in regulating stress (Van der Kolk, 2014, p. 275).
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External means of coping are just as important as coping internally. It is only human to need and to want to connect with others. I have seen the impact of how acknowledging feelings allows one to move through them. Find a person in your life that will give you the space to honor what you are feeling. Communicate with that person what you need from them, whether you want them to hold space for you and listen with non-judgement, or maybe you call for problem solving. Honor whatever it is that you need. Give it language. Describe it. Empower it.
Once you have honored your feelings by using your internal and/or external coping skills, you may find it useful to listen to music. Music is a powerful tool that can be used to change a mood and touch the soul. Because it is so powerful, it is important to listen to uplifting music when you are feeling sad. If you are feeling a negative emotion and you listen to music that also embodies negative emotion, it can influence you to feel worse. So be sure to listen to music that will contribute to you feeling the positivity and peace in your life.
This can be valuable when riding the wave of intense feelings and can also be useful to try before sleeping. Guided meditations are easily accessible with phone and computer applications such as Calm and Headspace, or by searching for “guided meditation” on YouTube. This may help to calm the mind and the body by letting go of thoughts that trap us, and by focusing in on the here and now.
*This article is intended for day to day use. If stress is impacting your life or these skills are not working for you, schedule an appointment with a therapist in your area. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call OKC Heartline at 211 for assistance.
Van der Kolk, B.A. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.